How The Internet Has Revolutionized Legal & Investigative Research

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by Carole Levitt, J.D., M.L.S. Since 1995, the increasing popularity and accessibility of the Internet have caused a dramatic shift in the way legal professionals do online research. Before then, online legal and corporate research was done exclusively on fee-based commercial databases like LexisÆ/NexisÆ, WestlawÆ, CDB InfoTekÆ, DataTimesÆ, or Information AmericaÆ to name just a few. In the ensuing five years, the widespread use of the Internet to publish information and the acceptance of the Internet as a reliable information source has made much of this information widely available and for free. Government information that was once available only by a phone call (if you were lucky enough to be able to get through to the governmental office), by mail or by paying for a commercial database search, is now available for free. Many Local, State and Federal government entities are now required by law to publish their regulations on the internet to insure the widest possible availability to the public. Newspapers like the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times provide free access to much of their papers on the Internet. Some of the material that you are probably still paying to access is now available free on the Internet, including:

  • U.S. Supreme Court cases and, as of 12/99, briefs
  • Attorney Directories
  • Federal, State and Local Codes & Regulations
  • Real-time SEC Filing Information
  • Federal, State and Local Court Forms
  • Federal and State Tax Forms
  • Corporate Registered Agent Information
  • Wire Service News Reports

This is not to say that the commercial database has gone the way of the dinosaur. These companies still provide valuable services, and have access to some information that is available no place else. In many instances though, competition from the Internet has spawned new commercial database companies with lower prices. Some of the information now available at a lower-cost includes:

  • State Cases
  • Public Records
  • Federal Cases
  • Archival News Articles
  • Docket Information

The explosion of the Internet has put a whole world of free and low cost legal information at our fingertips, literally, but you have to know where to find it to put it to work for you. Internet For Lawyers' in-house and off-site training seminars and reference materials can teach you where to find the best and most reliable sources.  

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